EU funds virtually all UK economics research

The study of economics and cancer research would be particularly vulnerable to Brexit, as they are among the research fields in the UK more dependent on EU funding, a report has said.

Examining Implications of Brexit for the UK’s Research Base, published on 18 May by the academic technology consulting firm Digital Science, suggests that UK researchers could lose £1 billion a year if the UK decides to leave the EU.

The report says that underinvestment in research in the UK has made its researchers very dependent on EU funding. EU funds have been used to “prop up and cover systemic issues” in UK research funding, the report adds.

The study says that 94 per cent of public funding for economic theory comes from EU sources. It also said that 41 per cent of cancer research, “an area in which the UK truly leads the world”, was supported by the EU. The biggest recipients of EU cancer research funds are University College London, Newcastle University and the University of Sheffield.

At present, 67 per cent of research funding for evolutionary biology, as well as 62 per cent for nanotechnology and 53 per cent for forestry science, comes from Europe and would be thrown into uncertainty, the report says.

While the UK is a net contributor to the EU, the money that UK universities win from EU funders represents a significantly higher proportion than for universities in other EU countries. The UK has been the second most successful winner of EU research funding, marginally behind Germany, over the past decade.

The report also says that large portions of the UK are “heavily dependent on EU funding for industrial R&D”. Around 8 per cent of the funding won in the UK from the EU over the last 10 years has been used to invest in corporate R&D, it says.

While researchers in all parts of the UK receive EU funding, the areas with the highest concentration overall are south-west England, outer London and parts of the north of England and Scotland.

Research Fortnight asked both the Economic and Social Research Council as well as the Royal Economic Society to comment. However, we did not receive a reply by the time this article went to press.

Digital Science is owned by the Holzbrinck group of media businesses, a conglomerate that includes the Nature journals.